Edwin Powell Hubble (November 20, 1889 – September 28, 1953) was an American astronomer. He profoundly changed astronomers' understanding of the nature of the universe by demonstrating the existence of other galaxies besides the Milky Way. He also discovered that the degree of redshift observed in light coming from a galaxy increased in proportion to the distance of that galaxy from the Milky Way. This became known as Hubble's law, and would help establish that the universe is expanding.
His studies at the University of Chicago concentrated on mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy which led to a BS degree in 1910. Hubble also became a member of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity and in 1948 was named Kappa Sigma "Man of the Year". He spent the next three years as one of Oxford's first Rhodes Scholars, where he originally studied jurisprudence, before switching his major to Spanish and receiving the MA degree, after which he returned to the United States. Some of his British mannerisms and dress stayed with him all his life, occasionally irritating his American colleagues.
Returning to the United States he worked as a high school teacher and a basketball coach at New Albany High School in New Albany, Indiana (near Louisville, Kentucky), and was a member of the Kentucky bar, although he reportedly never actually practiced law in Kentucky. He served in World War I and quickly advanced to the rank of major. He returned to astronomy at the Yerkes Observatory of the University of Chicago, where he earned a PhD in 1917 with a dissertation entitled Photographic Investigations of Faint Nebulae
In 1919 Hubble was offered a staff position by George Ellery Hale, the founder and director of Carnegie Institution's Mount Wilson Observatory, near Pasadena, California, where he remained until his death. He also served in the US Army at the Aberdeen Proving Ground during World War II. For his work there he received the Legion of Merit. Shortly before his death, Palomar's 200-inch Hale Telescope was completed; Hubble was the first to use it. Hubble continued his researches at the Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories, where he remained active until his death.
Hubble also devised the most commonly used system for classifying galaxies, grouping them according to their appearance in photographic images. He arranged the different groups of galaxies in what became known as the Hubble sequence.
Hubble was generally incorrectly credited with discovering the redshift of galaxies. These measurements and their significance were understood before 1918 by James Edward Keeler (Lick & Allegheny), Vesto Melvin Slipher (Lowell), and Professor William Wallace Campbell (Lick) at other observatories. Combining his own measurements of galaxy distances with Vesto Slipher's measurements of the redshifts associated with the galaxies, Hubble and Milton L. Humason discovered a rough proportionality of the objects' distances with their redshifts. Though there was considerable scatter (now known to be due to peculiar velocities), Hubble and Humason were able to plot a trend line from the 46 galaxies they studied and obtained a value for the Hubble-Humason constant of 500 km/s/Mpc, which is much higher than the currently accepted value due to errors in their distance calibrations. In 1929 Hubble and Humason formulated the empirical Redshift Distance Law of galaxies, nowadays termed simply Hubble's law, which, if the redshift is interpreted as a measure of recession speed, is consistent with the solutions of Einstein’s equations of general relativity for a homogeneous, isotropic expanding space. Although concepts underlying an expanding universe were well understood earlier, this statement by Hubble and Humason led to wider scale acceptance for this view. The law states that the greater the distance between any two galaxies, the greater their relative speed of separation.
This discovery was the first observational support for the Big Bang theory which had been proposed by Alexander Friedmann in 1922. The observed velocities of distant galaxies, taken together with the cosmological principle appeared to show that the Universe was expanding in a manner consistent with the Friedmann-Lemaître model of general relativity. In 1931 Hubble wrote a letter to the Dutch cosmologist Willem De Sitter expressing his opinion on the theoretical interpretation of the redshift-distance relation:
In the 1930s Hubble was involved in determining the distribution of galaxies and spatial curvature. These data seemed to indicate that the universe was flat and homogeneous, but there was a deviation from flatness at large redshifts. According to Allan Sandage,
Earlier, in 1917, Albert Einstein had found that his newly developed theory of general relativity indicated that the universe must be either expanding or contracting. Unable to believe what his own equations were telling him, Einstein introduced a cosmological constant (a "fudge factor") to the equations to avoid this "problem". When Einstein heard of Hubble's discovery, he said that changing his equations was "the biggest blunder of [his] life".
On March 6, 2008, the United States Postal Service released a 41 cent stamp honoring Hubble on a sheet titled "American Scientists." His citation reads: 'Often called a "pioneer of the distant stars," astronomer Edwin Hubble (1889-1953) played a pivotal role in deciphering the vast and complex nature of the universe. His meticulous studies of spiral nebulae proved the existence of galaxies other than our own Milky Way. Had he not died suddenly in 1953, Hubble would have won that year's Nobel Prize in Physics.' The other scientists on the "American Scientists" sheet include Gerty Cori, biochemist; Linus Pauling, chemist; and John Bardeen, physicist.
Named after him